At our Baptist Assembly in September 2014, Ivan James gave a key note address highlighting our movement forward as a denomination since 2009. The letter Ivan sent in 2009 in his role as chairperson of Tasmanian Baptists addressed our loss of momentum, shrinking numbers, effect of consumerism, not being evangelical, and loss of God's mission through us into our communities. This was a catalyst which began an intentional strategy in encouraging God's mission heart into the life of our churches. So where are we now and what is our response as Tasmanian Baptist churches?
In 2014, Ivan left us with three options to consider from the 2009 letter and our progress over the last few years - either to prove that this assessment was wrong; to accept it was correct and try and find a pathway to move from maintenance to mission as our focus; or to accept the information and analysis as correct but chose not to implement any of the suggestion. In the first option, there has been generally accepted that the initial assessment was correct. So how do work together in resourcing and assisting churches work with either of the other two options.
In 2015, three incubator groups consisting of one of the members of MLT and church leaders were initiated. One incubator looking at palliative care - helping churches who wish to remain as they are and finish well. Another incubator helping churches to look at pioneering evangelistic outreach opportunities in the community. And a third incubator assisting churches to revitalize and engage in local mission to their community. It is this third incubator that I'll focus on.
Church revitalization is about renewal, realignment and reengaging as God's people to love God, love others and intentionally 'making disciples'. It does involve change but it is driven with a missional and loving intent - connecting people with Jesus in ways that are cultural and relevant to our communities. It is the continuing work of God through his people to show Christ to our neighbours, workmates, families and community as Salt and Light. Revitalization is a work of the Spirit in reviving our hearts, to surrender our purpose to His, to repentance, prayer and gospel.
Revitalization is not a matter of loading a program into the church and see it grow. It is about our constant need to stay engaged with God and what he is doing in our community and working with him there. Thom Rainer writes "We need church leaders and members who love the communities their churches serve. No church has a turnaround until it first seeks to make a difference in its community." He further states "We need church leaders and members who will serve with the mindset of a missionary. The community should be viewed as a mission field rather than a pool of prospects" (Thom Rainer "Revitalizing Churches" 2014). Prayer, God's Spirit, determination, strength, compassion, love and message embraced and lived out by our congregations.
The Revitalization Incubator is currently made up of a team of five leaders - Peter Clarke (City Wide), Owen Muskett (Wynyard), Michael Ritchie (Westbury), Stephen Hendrick (Ulverstone) and John Smith (MLT - Superintendent). We are looking at other possible members to add to the team. Our role is to encourage, resource and walk alongside churches who are looking to revitalize their presence as God's people in the community. We are not great academics in this area, but practitioners researching and working it through in our own church settings. We don't have all the answers but are willing to walk with you in prayer and seeking God for what he wants to do in your location. We have a heart to see our churches healthy in their witness and growing in being the gospel in their region.
We are in the formative stages as a team but would value your prayers and input. Please feel free to contact any member of the team and let us know if we can help in any way.